SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — It is no secret that the Sacramento River was home to the big-wheeled paddle boats of days gone by, but one of them is a Hollywood star that today rests on the banks of the river it takes its name from.
The Spirit of Sacramento has sat decaying on the banks of the Sacramento River for 10 years now, but this remnant of the silver screen has quite the history.
The paddle boat first sailed under the name of Putah when it was originally built in 1942 as a snagboat for the Army Corp of Engineers.
The 98-foot, diesel-electric powered ship patrolled the waters of the Sacramento River removing any obstructions from the river.
The Putah would serve the military until it was surplused in 1954 and purchased by movie star John Wayne for his 1955 film Blood Alley.
The film featured Wayne and Lauren Becall as they and hundreds of Chinese villagers escape to Hong Kong on the paddle boat.
Getting a Hollywood makeover and being renamed the Chicu San/Chiku Shan the former snagboat was ready for the big screen.
Following the film, Wayne sold The Putah to Sacramento businessman Frank Prisi who renamed the ship the Mansion Belle and began providing pleasure cruises along the Sacramento River.
The Belle was docked on the Old Sacramento Waterfront.
In 1957, the Belle would begin its series of tragedies when it collided with a cottage and lost 10 of its propeller blades.
The ship was repaired and in 1959 made a big trip up north for Oregon’s Centennial celebration.
In 1961 the Belle would return to Sacramento and continue providing cruises from Sacramento to Walnut Grove.
Once again, however, the Mansion Belle would leave its home waters in 1964 and travel to Southern California where it would continue its life as a party cruise boat in Marina del Ray.
The destiny of the Mansion Belle is little known between the 1970s and 1980s, but she would return to her birth waters in the early 1990s.
In 1991 the Mansion Belle became The Spirit of Sacramento as its new owner Channel Star Excursions returned the ship to the Old Sacramento Waterfront.
For several years it would add to its long history as a pleasure river cruiser along the Sacramento River.
This return to the good old days would come to a sudden end though as a massive fire erupted on the ship while it was docked and fire crews were unable to save the ship.
In 1997, Channel Star sold the ship to William Baker who intended to rebuild the ship and rename it “The Duke”.
Baker spent at least $500,000 on rebuilding the ship, but continued vandalism of the ship delayed repairs and eventually ended attempts to fix the ship.
Over the following years, the half-sunken Spirit of Sacramento would remain in the Sacramento River until a group of concerned business owners fought to have the ship removed.
Fears mounted that the ship could break away from it moorings and take out anything in its path as it made its way down river.
In 2012 The Spirit of Sacramento was pulled out of the river and placed onto the nearby bank where it remains today.
Those looking for the boat can find it along Garden Highway south of Riego Road. It is on private property and no trespassing signs are placed along the roadway.